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Measuring Meritocracy: Upward Mobility In U.S. Is Lower Than In Canada & In Most Of Europe

by on Tuesday, October 16, 2012 at 2:49 pm EDT in Economy, Politics

To measure meritocracy within a nation’s economic system, economists tend to compare the relative incomes across generations.

An economic system that truly emphasizes meritocracy ensures that the income of a person’s parents have no bearing on his or her ability to succeed.

In a piece in The Economist, entitled “Like Father, Not Like Son,” it is revealed that an individual’s success in the U.S. is more dependent upon his/her “parents’ position on the income ladder” than in Canada and in most all of Europe:

Individual families’ fortunes over time can now be tracked by statistical surveys. This allows economists to measure how much parents’ position has influenced their adult children’s relative income or education. The resulting coefficient, the inelegantly named “inter-generational elasticity of income”, is today’s main measure of social mobility. The higher the coefficient, the less mobility there has been.

This technique shows Scandinavian societies to be very mobile. Only around 20% of parents’ relative wealth (or poverty) is passed on to their kids. China, in contrast, is fairly immobile: 60% of income differences persist between generations. The big surprise is the United States, where parental income explains around half of the differences in adult children’s income, much more than in Canada, and more than in any European country except Italy and Britain. According to this measure, social mobility in America now is lower than in most of Europe.

So, those in pursuit of the “American Dream” might want to relocate to our northern American neighbor, Canada, where that dream apparently still exists.